I really wanted to love being pregnant. I’d dreamed about being a mom for almost as long as I could remember, and for years, I felt like having a baby was, at least to some degree, what I was meant to do in life.
When I first got pregnant, I'd hoped that carrying a pregnancy would feel like coming into myself. When I pictured what pregnancy might be like, I imagined that there would be challenges, but I would rise to them. I thought I would get things done, deal with the discomfort, and go on a magical journey of self-discovery in which I would learn how strong I actually was.
But instead of making me feel like I was finally realizing my true purpose, being pregnant threw me for an incredible loop. It made me question aspects of my identity that I had previously taken for granted, and forced me to acknowledge parts of myself that I didn't know I had. In short, pregnancy really messed with my sense of self.
Before I got pregnant, I'd thought that my identity could best be summed up by a series of labels: I'm gay, I'm a cat lady, I'm a feminist, et cetera. And while pregnancy didn't take these things away from me per se, it did make them seem a lot less significant. After all, being pregnant didn't make me any less of a cat lover, but what did that matter when my wife and roommates were the ones taking care of them?
My body also didn’t feel like mine anymore. My tastes changed completely. For some reason, I became obsessed with raspberries and popcorn, and no one was even allowed to say the word “pizza” in my house because just the mental image of sauce and melty cheese was too disgusting for me to handle.
To some, these concerns might sound silly; obviously, I was the same person I'd always been, and pregnancy didn't change that. But at the time, my angst was pretty overwhelming.
That feeling was likely compounded by the fact that I had a rather difficult pregnancy, which was nothing like what I'd expected. Instead of feeling like I was blossoming into motherhood, I felt totally lost and totally disgusting. Being pregnant caused all manner of weird aches and pains; it also took my already terrible seasonal allergies and doubled them.
Because the physical symptoms of my pregnancy were debilitating, I found that I was unable to do a lot of the things that I'd so enjoyed doing, that gave me a sense of purpose. For instance, I couldn't cook, because even being near the kitchen would make me throw up. I also couldn’t walk far, because the shooting pains, exhaustion, and nausea made it miserable. Some days, I couldn’t even get down the stairs of my own home.
Before long, I'd lost my job. Seemingly overnight, my concept of myself as a woman who proudly baked her own bread and worked hard to provide for her growing family was just gone. I hadn't realized just how much stock I'd put in my ability to provide financially for my family, until I couldn't anymore. I'd always seen myself as the kind of person who took care of others, but now people were taking care of me. I felt more or less helpless.
I had imagined that pregnancy would help me get to know myself and get to the root of who I really was deep down inside. But all I was coming up with was an empty space.
Naturally, I sunk into a depression. I stopped painting and riding my bike, and eventually I stopped going out altogether. Even the few things I could sometimes physically manage — like reading a book or going for a short walk — I eventually lost interest in.
When I looked in the mirror, it was like seeing an empty shell of myself. I felt like overnight, I had transformed from an interesting, hippie-ish, artsy gay lady who got s**t done into a shapeless blob who couldn't manage to do anything but incubate a fetus.
I had imagined that pregnancy would help me get to know myself and get to the root of who I really was deep down inside. But all I was coming up with was an empty space. My self-esteem took a nose dive. I felt like a massive failure. If I wasn’t the kind of pregnant woman I’d imagined I would be, would that make me a different kind of mom too? What if I didn’t like the kind of mom I became?
I’d love to tell you that these feelings melted away the moment the baby was born. But that would be a lie. The truth is that regaining a sense of myself happened slowly and over time. After the birth, I was still a mess. But going out and doing little tasks on a daily basis helped. Once, I got myself some books I'd been meaning to read, just as a postpartum treat for myself. Another day, I made everyone soup.
Finding myself again wasn't as simple as just doing the things I'd loved to do before I got pregnant. It required slowly getting back to the point where I could do some of the things that were of value to me again, from making money to going on dates with my wife to actually being able to ride the bus without vomiting. And it required making space for my identity to change and grow. That was the real kicker. I realized I couldn't stay stagnant anymore, and I couldn't count on the me of the future being identical to the me of the past.
In some ways, I’m grateful for the upheaval. It was totally miserable at the time, and if I had had the choice, it sure isn’t what I would have signed up for. But I did learn a lot about myself, and some of those lessons I don’t know if I could have learned another way.